Sinai and Palestine Campaign 28 January 1915 to 31 October 1918

 

Most of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) went to France in 1916 after the Gallipoli Campaign. But the mounted units remained in Egypt to continue the fight against the Ottoman Army. The Ottoman threat to the Suez Canal ended with the Allied victory at Romani in August 1916. Then the Australians and other units in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) advanced into Ottoman territory. In 1917, the troops entered Palestine. In 1918, the EEF advanced into modern-day Jordan and Syria. The campaign ended on 31 October 1918, a few weeks after the capture of Damascus.

Battle of Romani 3 to 5 August 1916

This battle stopped the Ottoman threat to the Suez Canal and marked the beginning of the EEF's drive out of Egypt and into Palestine.

The British defences sat among a series of towering sand dunes, 35km east of the canal, which the Ottomans tried to outflank. At this time, the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade was the only unit in position to counter-attack. Heavily outnumbered, the Australians were forced to fall back.

Reinforcements steadily arrived as the day progressed. This established the EEF's position around a massive dune known as Mount Royston. The dune was named after popular Light Horse commander, Lieutenant Colonel 'Galloping Jack' Royston. The position was held throughout the night.

Before dawn the next morning, the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades advanced on foot with their bayonets. Turkish resistance collapsed, and the Australians took large numbers of prisoners. At 6:30am, fresh troops of the 3rd Light Brigade were turned loose in pursuit of the retreating Turks.

The battles of Gaza

Gaza was the heart of the main Turkish defensive position in southern Palestine. The EEF launched three major battles in 1917 to capture Gaza. The first attack was called off, although it seemed to some in the forward areas that success was at hand. This attack included the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba.

First Battle of Gaza 26 March 1917

The plan was for two British infantry divisions to attack Gaza from the south while mounted troops of the Desert Column attacked from the flanks and north.

The mounted troops quickly captured high ground to the north of the city. The infantry's progress was slower. British commander Lieutenant General Charles Dobell was concerned about the infantry's lack of progress. Dobell feared that water supplies needed for the mounted troops would not be captured that night, so he ordered a withdrawal at dusk.

Realising his mistake the next morning, Dobell tried to resume the battle with the infantry. The attack was not successful due to Ottoman reinforcements and his own troops' exhaustion.

Map of Eygpt
Map of the canal defences and the First Battle of Gaza, 26 March 1917. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Second battle of Gaza 17 April 1917

The second battle began 3 weeks after the first battle ended.

In the preceding weeks, the Ottomans had extended and improved their defences. Dobell’s attack consisted of a frontal assault on the Ottoman defences. The infantry attack was supported by gas and tanks, neither of which were much help.

The Allies made little headway against well-positioned Ottoman defences. Dobell called off the attack after 3 days of fighting, without gaining any significant ground.

Third Battle of Gaza 1 to 2 November 1917

The last battle of Gaza included the Allied attack on Beersheba.

The battle began as a feint to divert enemy forces to Gaza. The EEF bombarded the Ottoman garrison for 6 days. Then it deployed three infantry divisions to fool the Turks into believing that another frontal attack was imminent. The real effort was made at Beersheba, on the eastern extremity of the Ottoman defences.

The Allies captured Beersheba on 31 October 1917 after a daring mounted charge by Australian Light Horsemen. This allowed the British and dominion forces to outflank and roll-up the Turkish defensive line.

The attacks undermined the security of Gaza, which fell to the Allies on 7 November 1917 with little resistance from Ottoman forces.

Horses and soldiers gather together in the desert
Members of the Australian Light Horse with their horses the morning after they charged Beersheba and captured the town from the Turks. AWM P02041.010

The charge at Beersheba

The Battle of Beersheba, decided by a daring Light Horse charge, has dominated accounts of the Third Battle of Gaza.

In 1917, Beersheba (Be'er Sheva in current day Israel) was a heavily fortified town 43km from the Turkish strong-point of Gaza. It was on the right flank of an Ottoman defensive line that stretched back to the Mediterranean coast and became the scene of the historic charge by the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade on 31 October 1917.

The Allies launched their attack at dawn on 31 October, but by late afternoon British forces had made little headway toward the town — and its much-needed wells.

General Harry Chauvel, commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered the 4th Light Horse Brigade, under Brigadier William Grant, forward in an attempt to secure the position. Grant ordered the light horsemen of the 4th and 12th Regiments to charge the Turkish trenches. Using their long bayonets as 'swords', the momentum of the Light Horse charge carried them through the Turkish defences.

The water supplies were saved. Over 1000 Turks were taken as prisoners of war.

After more severe fighting, Turkish forces abandoned Gaza on 6 November 1917 and began their withdrawal.

A long line of horses travelling through a desert.

The Australian Light Horse advances on Beersheba in October 1917. AWM J06574

Battle of Jerusalem 17 November to 30 December 1917

The success in the third battle of Gaza allowed the EEF to advance further into Palestine for another month before the Ottomans could regroup. In that time, EEF units under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby captured the port of Jaffa, most of southern Judea and, on 9 December 1917, the city of Jerusalem. British Prime Minister Lloyd George welcomed the victory as a 'Christmas' morale booster after costly battles on the Western Front that year.

Trans-Jordan raids 21 March to 25 September 1918

British forces conducted smaller-scale operations, including the capture of Jericho on 21 February 1918, to improve their position against the Ottomans. The Turks defeated a large attack on Amman by Anzac and British forces, and another attack across the Jordan in late April 1918.

Battle of Megiddo 19 to 25 September 1918

This was the climactic battle of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

The Australian Light Horse and British, French, Arab and New Zealand units of the EEF fought under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby. Allenby's plan led the Ottoman high command to believe that his next offensive would be launched across the Jordan River. But he had secretly concentrated his forces on the coastal plain.

The offensive began with a massed infantry assault that ruptured the Ottoman line. Then the mounted forces were unleashed into the Ottoman rear to cut vital routes for supplies and reinforcements. Within 24 hours, the mounted troops had advanced over 50km into the Ottoman rear areas.

Waves of British and Australian aircraft sought out and attacked retreating Ottoman troops. They trapped columns of men, animals and equipment and systematically destroyed them, most famously on the Wadi Fara road.

By 21 September 1918, the Ottoman forces around Nablus were broken. This allowed 20 Corps to round up prisoners. Then mounted units, like the Australian Light Horse, overran the Ottoman defences at Samakh. The Battle of Megiddo caused a rapid Ottoman collapse, allowing Allied mounted troops to advance quickly on Damascus.

Map of Palestine and surrounding towns bordering the Mediterranean Sea
Map of the Battle of Meggido, 26 March 1917. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Capture of Damascus 26 September to 1 October 1918

In 1918, Damascus was the first objective of the great offensive launched by the EEF on the 19 September.

Over time, governments and historians have disputed which Allied troops were the first into the city. Australian authorities and others concluded that the honour probably went to a patrol of the 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment early on the morning of 1 October. They were followed by the 10th Light Horse Regiment. Last to arrive were:

Emir Said, who was installed as Governor of Damascus by the Ottomans the day before, surrendered Damascus to Major Arthur Olden. Olden was a tactically gifted and decorated light horseman who had been a dentist in Perth.

Armistice of Mudros 30 October 1918

The Armistice of Mudros was signed at the port of Mudros at the Greek island of Lemnos. This was where so many of the Anzac troops had prepared for the Gallipoli Campaign in April 1915.

The Armistice was an agreement between Britain, representing the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans surrendered to Britain, including their forces and garrisons in modern-day Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Allies would occupy the Dardanelles straits, Bosporus and the Armenian provinces. They also had the discretion to seize other points from which a threat to the Allies might emanate.

The Armistice enacted the demobilisation of the Ottoman Army and made Ottoman infrastructure available to the Allies.


Last updated: 11 March 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Sinai and Palestine Campaign 28 January 1915 to 31 October 1918, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 19 September 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/sinai-and-palestine
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